Nut Ink. Mini reviews of texts old and new. No fuss. No plot spoilers. No adverts. Occasional competency.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Author: Arthur C. Clarke | Page Count: 252

"Bowman had time for one glimpse of the racing chaos when the main lights flickered and died, and he was surrounded by screaming darkness."

I've found Arthur C. Clarke to be occasionally long-winded and overly techy at times, but not in 2001: A Space Odyssey. It's a novel that's so beautifully refined and free from filler that I was amazed it was Clarke I was reading. There's still science, but it's at an acceptable level (it's not head 'splode tech manual stuff) and it's fun. You may even learn a thing or two about the universe you inhabit.

The story is one of intervention. It's a history of the birth of mankind and a prediction of where we may yet end up. I can't say much more or risk spoiling key events, events that act as a catalyst for significant change.

Written by Clarke at the same time as he collaborated on the film script for the Stanley Kubrick feature, the prose both complements and occasionally deviates from the story presented in the film. Neither one is the gospel text; they both have a part to play. Interestingly, what I consider to be the most powerful scene in the film feels hurried and less emotional when written down. Conversely, the 'monkey bit' in the film that elicits laughs from naysayers is a thing of beauty herein. Clarke makes the millions of years transition as flawless as Kubrick made his.

I would normally recommend reading a text before viewing any kind of adaptation, but in this instance I think seeing the film before reading the book makes more sense. Kubrick creates the world and presents impersonal protagonists to inhabit it. Clarke creates more rounded characters but places them in a world that is in a state of constant flux. To fully understand the themes of 2001 it's important to assimilate both film and novel. I don’t think I've ever had cause to say that before. I'd call that a success.

4 primates that don't fling shit out of 5

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Phallic Frenzy: Ken Russell and His Films (2008)

Author: Joseph Lanza | Page Count: 384

When every second counts, it is often necessary to say two things at once; which is why I frequently introduce symbolism into scenes of reality.” –Russell.

Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the lover of kitsch and vaudeville imagery Ken Russell but were unable to ask.  It functions as a biography of his early years (although hurries quickly over one of the most traumatic events in his early life, I put this down to a show of respect for Russell) which helps shed light on the reasons for some of his adulthood fixations.  Later, it dissects and gives some juicy behind the scenes info on all his films.  Film fans will find this latter part of most interest.  Personally, I loved both parts.  Although, I had to selectively skip some paragraphs because I've not had the pleasure of viewing certain films yet.  Take note: spoilers aplenty in this book.

The biography part charts Ken’s (slow) rise from his days quietly challenging the uptight poker-in-the-ass BBC TV system, through his enfant terrible days, and finally to his New Forest films.  The book is arranged mostly chronologically which helps understand the progression and reasons for his changing beliefs, and how he integrated them into his filmic works.  Whether you find him offensive or seductive is unimportant, you can't deny his auteur status.

Author Lanza rightly identifies that one of Russell’s “…strongest metaphors is nature, both its majestic and hidden sides.”  Watch any of his films and you’ll come to the same conclusion.  That affinity for nature defines Russell just as much as the religious / sexual imagery that he flaunts.  Together, they form something both glorious and vulgar.  Like the man himself.

Sadly, Ken Russell died in November 2011 (aged 84).

4 masturbating nuns and a dog named poopass out of 5

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Notes from Underground (1864)

Author: Fyodor Dostoyevsky | Page Count: 136

"The best definition of man is: a being that goes on two legs and is ungrateful."

Notes is split into two distinct parts. The first is primarily concerned with human suffering and the complex enjoyment that can be attained from it. The text is presented as an excerpt from the diary of a retired civil servant. He's an embittered soul ranting about how the world is peopled by selfish bastards whom he despises, yet he too is selfish in his emotions and misgivings, so he's a part of the social group that he hates. He's aware of this fact and tries desperately to escape but is unable, which further feeds his misery, and the spiral takes shape.

The second part has the unnamed author relating tales of his awkward interactions with the kinds of contemptible people he was critical of in the first part. If he was to fit into their world, would it enable him to escape the futility and crippling nature of his own? Read the text and you'll find out. It explores human relationships from an 'outsider' point of view, and how reason and logic play a vital role in one's own personal standing with other people.

The second part was, for me, the least interesting of the two, while conversely being the most overtly vicious insight into the narrator's psyche.

If you hadn’t guessed already, it's an existentialist text, perhaps even the first of its kind. It's equal parts enlightening philosophy and outright miserable psychology and, in that respect, translates perfectly what the narrator feels.

4 assholes and a prostitute out of 5

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ancient Pagan and Modern Christian Symbolism: With an Essay on Baal Worship, on the Assyrian Sacred Grove and Other Allied Symbols by John Newton (1875)

Author: Thomas Inman / John Newton | Page Count: 242

"Letters and words mark the ordinary current of man's thought, whilst religious symbols show the nature of his aspirations."

If you’re not blinded by any one specific religion, a quick study of the many others available will throw up some obvious similarities: virgin births, death and resurrection, esoteric symbolism, etc. Let’s not beat around the burning bush, they’re basically the same shit in a different form. Christian, early Pagan, Assyrian, Egyptian, etc, share more than just a few vowels. Thomas Inman explores the similarities and gives examples through text and illustrations.

The illustrations also help him highlight another of his passions: the hidden sexual connotations of religious iconography. He loves his penile pillars and vaginal archways. It was penned in the late 19th Century so he had to conform to the standards of the day; he apologises for being unable to detail the "vulgar" but still manages to be explicit in his meanings. He gets excited over Egyptian women sleeping with goats for good luck, Indian women paying priests for sex to bring them closer to the god Vishnu, and equates what seems to be a shamrock with a pair of bollocks - three pairs to be exact. He’d make Freud blush.

His text repeatedly directs the reader to other sources that I didn't have, and for all I know may well be hard or even impossible to obtain in any form today. The second half of the book is a lot lighter on word count but is packed with pictures.

Sometimes he seems to be reaching for allusions that are far beyond believable. Still, I give him points for trying. Besides that, it’s an interesting read if you want some ammunition to fend off an attack by a fundamentalist the next time he/she tries to force a tract down your throat in a public place. Don’t swallow that shit. Give them some of the Inman "vulgar" that’s hidden in their religion and its architecture to shut them up.

2 religious goat-fuckers out of 5

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 2 (2004)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill | Page Count: 228

"I believe you do not hate me. I believe you have perhaps met someone worse than me. Would that be right?

Volume 2 of The League is superior in every way to the preceding volume. Again, it’s a traditional boys-own adventure with a literary slant, but this time it’s got more sci-fi elements. The plot is less fantastical, the interpersonal character relationships are better fleshed out, and Kevin O'Neill seems to be having more fun with the art. If you take the time to explore it you'll discover there's a lot of subtle things going on in the background.

You’ll get a deeper appreciation of what Moore was trying to do if you’ve read the source material that he’s used as a weave, or at the very least have an idea of what it’s about from any filmed versions. The biggest influence on this volume is something close to my heart, so I enjoyed it immensely.

The story moves ever further away from the traditional comic format. Nothing is black and white. The 'heroes' are as flawed and as selfish as the villains, and you'll be wondering why you sympathise with them at all at times.

There's a lengthy prose section at the back of the book called 'The New Traveller's Almanac' that expands upon the League and its bizarre world, and introduces elements that will reappear in subsequent volumes.

The book collects together The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Volume 2 issues 1-6.

4 million to one chances out of 5

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Star Wars Republic Commando: Triple Zero (2006)

Author: Karen Traviss | Page Count: 418
 I didn't have a mother or a father, but a stranger willingly chose me to be his son. You had a mother and a father and they let strangers take you. No, General, don't pity me.
The Clone Wars rage on a hundred different worlds and the Grand Army of the Republic is stretched thin, but recent terror threats on Coruscant itself must be dealt with to keep fear from spreading. So an anti-terror operation is authorized with 2 commando squads: Omega Squad, protagonists from the 1st book, and Delta Squad, protagonists of the tie-in video game. They must experience this new, covert way of fighting while dealing with their conflicted feelings of seeing civilians living a life that has been denied them since birth.

Karen Traviss continues adding to the extensive Star Wars expanded universe, but the real stand out are the characters themselves. They are more fleshed out both in detail in the text and in-universe as they have been experiencing war for over a year. There is a very human story being told. It just happens to be in the Star Wars universe with action, blasters and Jedi. Keep it up Miss Traviss.

4 Even alien chicks dig scars out of 5

Monday, May 7, 2012

Species Design (1996)

Author: H.R. Giger | Illustrator: H.R. Giger | Page Count: 86

"I cast worms in silicon …Instead, in the film, reddish brown computer-generated sausages burst out (but very quickly, to hide the computerised embarrassment)."

Large format coffee table book, about the size of an LP, that doesn't fit on any of my shitty Argos flat-pack shelving.  It’s full of HR Giger illustrations, primarily the early stage concept sketches that rarely get released to the public, most of which are black ink on paper.  Giger’s sketches have an almost obsessively hurried appearance.  Seeing what he had envisioned for the creature, that didn't make it into the film, is the only reason to purchase this.  If you’ve seen the film you may remember Sil's dream, with the train?  Probably not, it was brief.  Giger put a huge amount of work into the train, even building a working scale model from animal bones, PVC, wood and metal at his own expense.  The studio gave it a mere 8 seconds of footage in the final product.  Had it remained as he envisioned it could've been spectacular, perhaps even the highlight of the whole damn thing.

His association with Hollywood hasn’t been a pleasant one over the years so it’s nice to get something from his POV.  However, at times he uses the book as a platform for his grievances about the Hollywood machine.  It's either a man having a bitch-fit, or an artist whose vision was cruelly compromised getting a cathartic release.  Either way, it borders on the depressive.  I felt so very sorry for him, and wondered why he took such treatment from the money-whores.  I have my suspicions but you’ll maybe discover that for yourself upon reading.

Alongside the aforementioned sketches are colour photographs of the animatronic puppets used in the production, and lots of stills from the film which are either there contractually or as filler.  If you have an unfilled need for a deeper insight into the creation of the best part of the film, the book will give it.  I just hope you have some oversized shelves to house it on.  Don't go to Argos for them.

3 all aboard the penis train to a Swiss pervert’s dreamland out of 5

Sunday, May 6, 2012

V for Vendetta: New Edition (2009)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: David Lloyd | Page Count: 296

"They eradicated some cultures more thoroughly than they did others."

V for Vendetta is set in post-war Britain; while not directly involved in the nuclear bombardment, it did suffer some socio-economic fallout after it was over.  It became a fascist state controlled by a select few, policed by the power-hungry and corrupt, and populated by the frightened.  One man, V, a self-elected revolutionary, attempts to pull away the apathy, to wound the totalitarian regime and incite a passion for change in the populace.  V orchestrates a violent and theatrical campaign against the oppressors.  He’s a wakeup call to the sleeping masses.  Being rudely awakened is unpleasant.  It’s more comfortable to go on sleeping.  But should we hate the alarm, or the reason it was set?

If V is the central protagonist of the work, which is debatable, then the City itself can be viewed as the most obvious antagonist, as V’s nemesis.  The people that sit in positions of power are only there because the City let them get there.

I imagine the book is largely misunderstood outside of Britain (as evidenced by the film adaptation), because it mirrors the potential social stratification that could've taken place here, albeit in an extreme scenario.  That kind of fractured class structure isn't distinctly British, but it is a deep rooted part of our culture, a part of our history and very possibly a part of our future.  America wants to expand its hypothetical borders and rule the world.  Britain wants to close its doors and rule its own back yard with an iron hand.  (We don’t vote for who we think is best, we vote for who is the least worst, if we choose to vote at all.)  That's the kind of environment that breeds—and needs—anarchy, and is the very same conditioning that must be overcome to view the work in its proper context.  V isn't a hero.  V is an anarchist.  Can the two co-exist, or are they mutually exclusive?  You'll need to decide that for yourself.

The colouring adds nothing to the work other than distraction.  The panels are well drawn and dramatic so a suitably dramatic palette of black ink on white page would've been preferable.

Textually the book is full of ideas and can be seen as a prototype of what Moore would do with Watchmen (1987).  It’s not quite as good as that seminal work, but it's damn close.  The ‘New Edition’ includes two short interludes originally presented between the three distinct parts.  They aren't part of the main continuity, so can be read or ignored as the reader wishes.

4½ iambic pentameters out of 5

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Volume 1 (2002)

Author: Alan Moore | Illustrator: Kevin O'Neill | Page Count: 192

"God, what a squalid thing humanity can be!  Would that they all might vanish and be made invisible instead of I.

Alan Moore’s magical beard helps him channel the glittering milk from the bosom of the Muse; it keeps him protected from all the lurky things in dark closets; and it wards off irritating little faeries scouting for motion picture deals (sadly, that last part isn't true).  There are times when he makes mistakes like any normal mortal, but the League isn't one of those times, although you may be forgiven for thinking it is on your first reading.  It’s painfully slow to unfold and doesn't excite in the way normal comics do.  It’s only when you adjust your expectations for the second and third reading that the charms begin to shine through.

With the League, dialogue is key.  It features a group of Victorian era literary characters culled from a number of different sources.  Each character speaks in a manner befitting their locale and time period.  The people were never meant to exist in the same universe, much less in the same book, but it really works, and the resultant clash of egos and identities adds tension.

The identity of the characters isn't explicitly revealed at the beginning.  Part of the fun is figuring out who they are before you’re told.  If you've read some 19th Century literature (it’s set in 1898) you’ll appreciate the work a lot more.

In short, it’s a traditional, fun, boys-own adventure with a literary slant.

The book collects together The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen issues 1 – 6.

3 sleepless nights at the girls' school out of 5